How do you imagine life after retirement? Whether you’re planning to cruise around the world, take up a new hobby, or spend time with your grandkids, you almost certainly want to be as active as possible, while continuing to live in your own home. Or, if you have aging parents, this topic is probably on your mind as the years go by. How can you help your parents live comfortably but independently?
This is sometimes known as aging in place, and while it’s possible, it’s much more attainable if the right support is available. Technology plays an important role in aging in place and is becoming more powerful and more plentiful than ever, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, elder care is one of the fastest-growing areas of technology and is expected to be a $10 billion industry by 2020. This is no surprise when you consider the demographics involved: There are currently around 45 million Americans over the age of 65, and that number will grow to 56 million by the next decade.
In a domestic environment, IoT involves household objects and appliances that can connect to the internet and function as smart devices. It’s an emerging technological paradigm, and one that offers increased opportunity for independent living.
There are a number of ways IoT might aid aging in place, such as:
- Fall monitors — Falling is one of the most common causes of injury in people over 65, with 2.5 million incidents occurring each year. Falls are especially dangerous for people who live alone, and a variety of technologies exist to help in this scenario, such as wearable bracelets with built-in accelerometers. Once a fall is detected, the device can sound an alarm or place a call to emergency services.
- Home security — Living alone can be scary for people who feel vulnerable due to their health, physical limitations, or age. IoT-based home security can be extremely empowering in such cases. Live-streaming cameras can be placed anywhere around the house, and smart locks added to doors and windows, all of which can then be controlled from a tablet or smartphone.
- Body monitors — Many people already rely on a wearable device such as a Fitbit to help with their fitness regime by recording basic bioinformation. There’s huge scope for that technology to be extended, allowing even more vital signs to be monitored and recorded, and possibly uploaded directly to a doctor’s office, which reduces the need for note-keeping. Such monitors could also play a role in early identification of strokes and heart attacks.
- Drug management tools — It can be a challenge to manage your daily schedule of medications, and it’s even harder if your memory is impaired. Apps already exist to help with planning and to issue reminders to the user about which medications they need to take and when. This technology could expand to include smart pill boxes that not only dispense the right medications at the right time, but can raise an alert if they aren’t taken.
- Groceries and essentials — Imagine a refrigerator that automatically orders milk to be delivered when you’re about to run out. We’re not quite there yet, but services like Amazon Dash are a step in that direction. This kind of functionality is of huge value to people with mobility issues, for whom grocery shopping can be difficult.
IoT technology will grow and develop over the coming years, powering a smart-home revolution and providing essential assistance to those who need it. Aging in place should be possible for all of us, allowing us to spend our golden years in the homes and communities that we love.